Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Valley Of The Moon, Sonoma County, California, USA

April 6, 2008

"I really loved Alan. He had a Zen-like capacity for irreverence. I remember a meeting with him after I started est. It was a meeting in San Francisco called 'The Changing Way', or something like that. I had been invited to talk. After my talk I was invited to dinner and went into the dining room. It was full of yoga masters. Practically everybody was dressed in saffron robes.

Just then Alan swept into the room. He was going to have to miss dinner in order to give his own talk, so he came in to say hello first. He knew everybody in the room and was open and warm with them - but in a reverent and correct Buddhist way. He went around and greeted each of them formally.

I was the last person at the table, and he hadn't yet noticed me. When he got to me, the cloak of reverence fell away. He threw up his arms and cried 'You rogue, you!', and embraced me."
sharing his experience of Alan Watts with Professor William Warren "Bill" Bartley III, Werner's official biographer, in the account titled "In Search Of Enlightenment" in the chapter called "Quest" in part II, "Education", of "Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man - The Founding of est"
This essay, Alan, is the seventh in an open group on People: It is also the prequel to Biting My Own Teeth.

I am indebted to Alan Watts who inspired this conversation, and to his son Mark Watts who contributed material.

Alan Watts
I love Alan Watts. Alan Watts changed my life.

That is to say, Alan Watts irrevocably impacted the way I look at who I am  (indeed, at what  I am), at the way I look at my life, at the way I look at Life itself, at the way I look at what my prudent choices are in the matter of living my life.

To experience Alan for the first time is a pivotal moment for anyone. Whether it be through reading any of his many erudite and brilliant exposés of Zen, or whether you've been fortunate enough to attend his seminars. Once you've experienced Alan, you've crossed a line you can never pull back from - and neither would you ever want to.

Alan W ("Wilson") Watts, an Englishman, became a priest in the Episcopal Church. In any religion or metaphysical school of thought, the associated philosophical doctrine explains who we are, how we got here, and where we're going. The job a priest takes on is to disseminate the doctrine of the church. By any account (including his own) Alan would have been brilliant at being  an Episcopalian.

Yet also by his own account, upon looking within his own experience of who he is as a human being, indeed upon looking within his own experience at what it is  to be a human being, Alan found himself to be at odds with the church. He noticed, with deeper and deeper profundity, the unavoidable fact that he couldn't fully account for or reconcile his experience of who he really is  within the doctrine of the church.

Maintaining integrity, he met with and discussed his realizations with the church elders. After noticing their fundamental disagreement inside of the direction his life was going anyway, Alan renounced the priesthood, becoming instead one of the west's foremost exponents of Zen.
Werner Erhard's stated essential  exposure which gave rise to the critical mass of experience from which he created his magnum opus  of transformation, is Zen. Alan Watts made an enormous  contribution to Werner's initial experience of Zen.

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
 - by Alan Watts - Vintage 1966 - ISBN 0679723005 - © Alan Watts
The Book
On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
by Alan Watts
One of the fundamental distinctions in Zen is the distinction between who you really are, and mind. A common misunderstanding of Zen is that its goal is to "tame" the mind. Indeed the true Zen adherent allows  the mind to be, with compassion and innocence. The Zen mind is a beginner's  mind.

For Alan, Zen had very practical, prudent applications. Alan was aware of an application of Zen beyond merely the distinction between who you really are - Self  - and mind, more practical even than knowing who you are. What Alan had noticed is that society isn't structured or set up to teach people (young people, in particular) who they really are. On the contrary, what Alan isolated was that in our society, it's not simply that we don't know who we really are, and it's not simply that we don't teach in schools who we really are. Alan isolated society's rampant, active, avoidance  of being who we really are, the no-no  of being who we really are.

Alan articulated this no-no of society as "the taboo  against knowing who you are".

He then asked himself "What's the most useful information I can give my son Mark? It's not taught in schools. It's avoided in life. If I could tell Mark one thing that would equip him for life in the world as best as I can equip him for life in the world, the most useful information I can give Mark is the low down  on the taboo against knowing who he is.

Alan realized the book he'd like to give Mark containing this useful information wasn't given in schools. In fact, it wasn't even written yet. Alan realized he would write that book for his son Mark, the book on the taboo against knowing who he is.

A far cry from the heady world of Zen, Alan's intention for The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are was for it to be a guide for young people generally. He dedicated The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are to his children and to his grandchildren, then published it as Mark, his eldest son, turned thirteen.

Read this book.

You'll not only hear Alan in full cry, at his most brilliant clearest simplest best, the erstwhile Episcopal priest turned Self-made west's foremost exponent of Zen, but you'll also hear Mark and his siblings and their children listening intently to their father and grandfather Alan, mouths dropped open in rapt attention. And perhaps just as endearingly you'll also hear a young Werner Erhard absorbing, like a sponge, information from a master pointing him to the critical distinction between Self  and mind, a key bastion in the foundation of transformation.

This is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience
 - by Alan Watts - Pantheon 1960 - ISBN 0394719042 - © Alan Watts
This is It
and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience
by Alan Watts
Speaking for myself, when Alan did holy violence to the taboo, that was enough for me. But when he pointed Werner toward the distinction between Self  and mind, that changed the whole world and what would forever be possible from then on. I could stop right there and be complete in my acknowledgement ... but there's one other distinction Alan brought forth which I assert is worth mentioning.

Thwarting our furtive, frustrated dreams  and aspirations  embedded in what we try to attain and where we try to get to  in order (we hope) to reach a "better"  place, Alan coined the phrase "This is It":  there's nothing to do, there's nowhere to go, there's nothing to get. THIS IS IT.

That's extraordinary. That's profound. For many, it's too simple. It's maddening  in fact. Indeed, Zen can be maddening. We're not ready for the Zen of THIS IS IT. We're not ready to give up all the meaning.

That's the second work of the many Alan produced which, for me, is worth the money many, many times over: the exposé he titled "This is it".

You could say enlightenment is giving up the notion you're unenlightened.

This is it.

I actually like it better when it's said enlightenment is giving up the notion that you are enlightened (as James "Jim" Tsutsui may have said). Doesn't that take the arrogance, the hoity toity, the significance, the meaningfulness  out of it for you?

This is it. Nothing to do. This is it. Nowhere to go. This is it. Nothing to get. This is it. Be here now. This is it.

Alan was the kind of guy who simply said earlier than most what we all eventually realized for ourselves. A true pioneer says things that sooner or later, everyone takes for granted, that sooner or later, everyone knows to be true. Then we say that its in the public domain. Yet we forget how it got there, into the public domain, in the first place. We forget our pioneers. Alan didn't ask to be lionized or to be immortalized. He was probably too busy chopping wood, carrying water, making tea  to care or to be bothered. But for me, as a matter of principle and as a matter of integrity, it's just plain healthy to acknowledge from where and from whom we get what we get.

I acknowledge Alan. Personally. Privately. Publicly. Thank You Mr Watts. Thank You Alan.

Alan may never have known, as time eventually did tell, he set the stage  for people to have a relationship with Werner. It's more than that, actually. Alan also gave Werner critical isotopes and catalysts which empowered Werner to bring transformation to the world stage. I'm glad Alan gave me what he gave me. And I'm deeply, deeply grateful he gave Werner what he gave Werner. Werner's experience is the  essence of what we've got today. I know of no way that works better. I'm touched and moved by who gave what to Werner. What a fortuitous synchronous event it was that, in the beginning, Alan Watts was there. How awesome. How simply amazing.

Photography by Laurence Platt - April 16, 2008
SS Vallejo
Sausalito Houseboat Harbor, California, USA
How did it happen? Werner asked one of his staff to research where he could meet Alan. He was pleasantly surprised to learn Alan lived nearby on his houseboat, the SS Vallejo  moored in Sausalito houseboat harbor. He was a neighbor! Werner visited with Alan, attending his seminars on his houseboat.

I've attended lots of Werner's seminars. There's really only one word I can think of to describe the quality which allows for the complex, expanding space Werner brings forth in his seminars through his speaking (within my listening) in which people unerringly get who they really are  ... AND  ... the possibilities they can invent for their futures. That word is "mastery"  - total, vibrant, brilliant, full, absolute mastery.

In this space of mastery around Werner, I've gotten how to lead seminars. I've had no formal training. I've got no recipe nor style. There's no strategy I follow. I've got no format  I've studied and learned to deliver. In the olden days, we got whatever we got just by being around Werner. Now, when I lead a seminar, I'm simply being the way Werner be's  when he's leading. Magic happens in that room. I don't know why ... and I do know why.

So to me, the idea of Werner attending seminars himself, and Alan's seminars in particular, is really a link back, a lineage. And while tradition  and the very notion of lineage  aren't required to authenticate Werner bringing his work forth out of his experience of himSelf, if I could think of and acknowledge only one source of tradition and lineage for Werner's work, I would gracefully, gratefully, and with a heart wide open with thanks, acknowledge Alan for creating the space for Werner to come forth ... and for me to come forth ... and for all of us to come forth as who we really are. Gracefully, gratefully, and with a heart wide open with thanks, I acknowledge Alan for gleefully doing such irreparable violence to the taboo  against knowing who you are. It's an astonishing, immeasurable contribution to the human race.

While est  and the current iteration of Werner's work embodied in the Landmark Forum are distinct from Zen, it's entirely appropriate for people who are interested in Werner's work, est, and the Landmark Forum, to be interested in Zen. Alan, in illuminating the Zen way  for Werner, created a space in which Werner could get ie materialize Then, in pointing Werner toward the distinction between Self and mind, his most profound exposition, Alan arguably made the essential  contribution to Werner, given everything Werner went on to generate next.

Thank You Mr Watts. On behalf of all of us. Thank You Alan.

Communication Promise E-Mail | Home

© Laurence Platt - 2008 through 2024 Permission